GVN Center and Member Spotlight

January 10, 2022

Dr. Vineet D. Menachery

Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology
Galveston National Lab
University of Texas Medical Branch, USA

How were you first drawn into virology and specifically become familiar with GVN?

I have loved sports and competition for nearly as long as I can remember. In reflecting on the greatest players and teams, I am often struck that an equally great opponent is required to drive the extraordinary results. When pushed to the brink, we often witness excellence that cannot be achieved through any other means. In many ways, I have built a research program based on the same premise. The underlying thread of my career has been using highly successful viruses to examine critical aspects of the immune response. By employing virulent respiratory pathogens including coronaviruses (CoV), I have been able to probe and identify host-virus interactions that dictate disease outcomes. The GVN represents a cohort of investigators that are asking the same question and exploring the same responses. These insights we gain from these studies extend into immunology, host genetic variation, and viral processes that are critical to understand and ameliorate human disease.

What do you hope to gain and contribute from the Rising Stars Mentorship Program?

In the context of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, I have greatly benefited from the experience of more senior members of my laboratory community. My partnership with Drs. Scott Weaver and Pei-Yong Shi at UTMB has produced landmark papers associated with COVID-19. As a Rising Star Member, I am hoping to capitalize on the breadth of experience in some of the most important viruses that threaten human health. Forging these interactions and learning from this outstanding group of scientists has the potential to form a solid foundation for my ongoing career.

Research Interest

Utilizing severe coronavirus infections, the Menachery Lab seeks to define virus-host interactions that dictate disease outcomes taking advantage of three cutting edge platforms: 1) reverse genetic systems for virus generation, 2) a refined systems biology approach, and 3) diverse model systems for infection. Described below, the current projects provide insight into our approach and explore areas with implications for understanding infection and disease.

  • Examine the dynamics of host-virus interactions within and between diverse viral families. Employing uniform experimental platforms, these systems based studies seek to identify common host pathways induced and/or antagonized by various pathogenic viruses. The approach also leverages differences between wild-type and mutant viruses to identify key processes that drive pathogenic outcomes. The overall goal is to derive mechanistic insight and develop novel avenues for antiviral treatment.
  • Explore the pathogenic and emergence potential of novel CoVs. The outbreaks of both SARS and MERS-CoV underscore the need for continued surveillance of zoonotic viruses. While CoV sequences have been identified, minimal translational work has been undertaken. These studies evaluate the likelihood of emergence, pathogenic potential, and efficacy of current therapeutic platforms against existing coronavirus strains.
  • Define age dependent changes to host immunity via viral infection. Infectious disease in the context of aging represents an opportunity to explore changes to immunity as well as gain insights into a leading cause of death among the elderly. Importantly, both SARS and MERS-CoV induce more severe infection and increased mortality in aged human patients. This phenotype is recapitulated in young and aged mouse models, allowing exploration of host virus interaction that change as a product of aging. These studies seek to identify, confirm, and validate changes in pathway activation as well as develop treatments to mitigate disease in the aged hosts.
  • Examine the role of host diversity in susceptibility to infection. In addition to aging, host genetic diversity plays a critical role in the response to respiratory virus infection. Employing the Collaborative Cross (CC), a panel of recombinant inbred mice that captures genetic diversity similar to the human population, we observe a wide spectrum of phenotypes. These readouts can be dysregulated from each other, allowing fine mapping to define specific genetic components that drive phenotypic responses.
Overview of the Galveston Lab, UTMB

The Galveston National Laboratory (GNL) is a sophisticated high containment research facility that serves as a critically important resource in the global fight against infectious diseases. The GNL is located on the campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch and operates under the umbrella of UTMB’s Institute for Human Infections and Immunity.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) provides funding for the BSL4 laboratories and operations at the GNL, and the lab’s top priority is research to develop diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines to combat the most dangerous diseases in the world.

Researchers at the GNL are internationally known for their expertise working with pathogens including Ebola and Marburg, emerging infectious diseases like COVID-19 and MERS, and mosquito borne viruses like Zika and Chikungunya. Research also focuses on understanding transmission and pathogenesis of emerging viruses and developing medical countermeasures for dangerous pathogens that can be weaponized.

The Galveston National Laboratory is home to research that is funded by NIAID, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and other federal agencies, as well as academic partners, private foundations, and the Biopharmaceutical industry.

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